Grand Rapids Griffins First Half Report Cards
Development underway despite roster shuffling…
By Jason Kasiorek
January 12th, 2020
The Griffins have already used 38 players in the first half, not counting backup goaltenders who didn’t see the ice, well on their way to setting a new team record. As the team has struggled through the revolving door roster, one things has been proven, that the development of the organization’s prospects take precedence over wins and losses. Wings GM Steve Yzerman has also been diligent about remaking the depth charts as several underperforming prospects were moved out in the first half. !st round picks Moritz Seider, Joe Veleno, Evgeny Svechnikov have gotten a lot of ice time to grow, Filip Zadina graduated to NHL. The ride hasn’t been smooth for everyone as Michael Rasmussen missed most of the season with injury, Dennis Cholowski played his way out of the NHL and Filip Larsson wasn’t ready for primetime and was farmed out to the ECHL. The addition of Griffins legend Eric Tangradi helped stabilize the roster and the second half should be interesting to watch.
These are the Griffins’ first half grades:
The Rating Scale:
A – Excellence
B – Above Average play – Exceeds Expectations
C – Baseline – Meets Expectations
D – Below Average play – Does not meet expectations
F – Fail
1st Half GP G A PTS PIM +/- Shts
Eric Tangradi A 8 6 2 8 4 -22 1
Despite the short sample size, the return of Calder Cup Champion and power forward Eric Tangradi can only be seen as an outstanding performance and one of the few highlights of a lackluster first half. He scored in his first game and then added 6 more in 8 contests and a pair of assists to even his ledger at a point per game. More than the scoresheet impact, he added some energy and confidence to a lineup that had no swagger. His presence on the ice and in the room were a much-needed boost and it is no coincidence the team broke a long losing streak with him on the bench. A solid second half could result in a two-way deal next season with Detroit and another crack at NHL.
Brian Lashoff A 25 2 4 6 20 2 39
Lashoff, the team’s defensive leader, had another solid start to the season, mentoring several of the teams young blueliners and being the safety valve for their mistakes. He plays a simple mistake-free defensive style, using his stick to take away lanes and steer the opponent and puck out of danger. His strong play led to another extended NHL stay, an apt reward for the veteran defender.
Dylan McIlrath A 20 0 5 5 27 1 22
McIlrath is off to his best start in the organization, playing with confidence and playing great defense. His skating work in the offseason added a half step to his speed which has really made a difference. He was rewarded with an extended stay in Detroit where he was actually one of the teams better blueliners and has remained at that level in his return to the AHL. His leadership and toughness were sorely missed during his NHL recall, and the team plays larger with him in the lineup.
Moritz Seider A- 28 1 11 12 14 -10 28
Seider has hardly looked out of place as an 18-yr. old in the AHL and continues to improve as the season goes on. His skating and vision help him play airtight defense and any mistakes he does make; he seems to recover from quickly. As he has gotten comfortable in the North American game, he has started to show the physical side of his game using his size and speed to hand out some highlight reel hits. The energetic blueliner has also started to jump up into the play more and display his offensive instincts, without putting himself out of position defensively. After his sterling WJC Performance, Seider should get a look in Detroit over the second half and his future looks bright.
Joe Hicketts A- 29 2 15 17 14 -3 65
After an off year last season, Hicketts came to camp ready to go this year, and the results have been hard to argue with. He leads the Griffins blueline corps in scoring despite spending time with the parent Wings earlier in the season and is playing with the energy that seemed to be missing for a large part of last season. His defensive game has been sound as he quietly makes plays and send the puck up ice. While his physical game has been a bit toned down from his past levels, his penchant for bad penalties has also been toned down, meaning he is on the ice more where he is needed. A favorite of the organization because of his spirit and enthusiasm, he has earned another look in Detroit to see if he can lay claim to one of the open spots next year.
Alec McCrea B+ 19 0 4 4 13 2 16
A solid stay at home defender, McCrea has really stood out on the Griffins blueline with his steady play. It did not take the rookie long to find his way at the AHL level, as he was playing regularly and killing penalties by the end of his first game. McCrea sees the ice very well and uses his stick and positioning to take away lanes much like Lashoff. His strong play will mean tough decisions ahead when everyone is healthy and returned from the NHL.
Gustav Lindstrom B 38 0 4 4 24 -11 30
Lindstrom plays with icewater in his veins, rarely getting rattled and playing with poise far beyond his experience level. A gifted skater, he has come a long way in a short time after starting out the season looking pretty overwhelmed. He does a lot of things right, including a great first pass out of the zone, his positioning is pretty good, and he has the speed to open things up if he heeds to. He isn’t fancy and won’t stand out, but really just seems to be in the right place at the right time. It reamins to be seen whether his offense game will translate to the North American ice, but he has the skill set to make you expect more.
Calvin Pickard B 22 0 0 0 2 0 0
Pickard is an interesting goalie to watch because of his unorthodox style of play. He is very reminiscent of former Griffin Eddie Pasquale in style and his greatest attribute may be that he never gives up. He is not pretty at times but is a battler and his intensity is apparent as he is extremely involved in the play around him, frequently leaving the net to play the puck or set a pick if needed. His numbers are not among the lead leaders in the first half, but he has been the victim of the players in front of him more than he has been the cause. He is still on pace to better his best number of wins in a season, and a big second half would not be surprising for the former Calder Cup Champion.
Pat Nagle B 7 0 0 0 0 0 0
Recalled from Toledo when Larsson was farmed out for further seasoning, Nagle was expected to backup Pickard for a stretch. He was thrown into the mix when Pickard was summoned to Detroit and had his first sustained opportunity at the AHL level, and actually played pretty well. His goals against average and save percentage were stellar in seven appearances, and though his won-loss record wasn’t pretty a lot of that was due more to the lack of offense in front of him. His fate in the second half really depends on Poulin, but he has shown that he can play at this level if needed.
Taro Hirose B 15 4 7 11 6 -1 31
Hirose has been an interesting player to watch, in that he does a lot of subtle things that you almost don’t notice that lead to scoring chances. He sees the ice so well, that the puck seems to follow him around. He knows what to do around the net and has quick soft hands for rebounds, tips and wristers in close. Sometimes his size and intensity level lead to him being less of a factor than he is on other nights, but if you are not that big, you probably learn to fly under the radar a bit more instead of fighting to the net through traffic. He is an asset on the powerplay due to his creativity and quickness and incredible one-on-one moves. Hirose needs to get stronger, which would help him not get knocked off the puck so much and will also help his skating which could use some work specifically with acceleration.
Chris Terry B 36 13 22 35 22 -10 96
It may seem like a stretch to give the 5th leading scorer in the AHL a B, but Terry is a tale of the extremes of inconsistency. When he is on, he is an elite sniper at this level with quick hands able to make things happen with no time or space. When he is not, his scoring droughts are Epic, like the one he was in for the entire second half of last season, and the last month of the first half. He was showing signs of breaking out again, and a return to form would be a huge boost to this offensively starved team.
Givani Smith B 22 4 9 13 59 -5 32
Smith is really growing into his role as a power forward as opposed to just a tough guy who can score a little. He improved his skating in the off season which has been very apparent in both his ability to create gap, but also in his extended stay in the NHL. He started off the season scoring at a point per game level while still maintaining a physical presence. His scoring slowed a bit after an injury sidelined him, but his all-around game continued to thrive leading to another NHL recall. Few players combine Givani’s speed, size and soft hands, and if returns to the AHL he will benefit from more time with mentor Tangradi.
Matt Puempel B 27 12 13 25 16 -10 85
Battled through injuries again in the first half but continued to score at a point per game pace when he was in the lineup. Puempel is a sniper pure and simple, you don’t usually notice him until the red light goes on as he appeared in the right spot and sniped a puck past the opposing netminder. He has a propensity to take bad penalties and will lose his temper at times, leaving his team shorthanded or at the very least negating a powerplay. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to top the 30-goal mark again, pretty healthy numbers for this team.
Dominic Turgeon B 38 7 8 15 2 5 65
Turgeon has been slotted in scoring lines for most of the season, though his offensive number don’t reflect it. He has continued to excel defensively providing a reliable presence up the middle capable of playing in all situations. On the penalty kill, you can see that he misses longtime partner Colin Campbell, though he has still been effective, just not as dangerous. This is a pivotal season for Turgeon as he will be classified as a veteran next year and needs to make a case for NHL employment.
Joe Veleno B- 29 5 7 12 10 -22 51
After an impressive prospects’ tournament and preseason in Detroit, Veleno had a challenging start in the AHL as he adjusted to the pace and style of play. His skating is one of the keys to his game as he is fast, fluid and effortless, allowing him to catch puck carriers and make plays at high speed. he has been a regular on the penalty kill and eats a lot of minutes for coach Simon. His offensive game has started to come online which is more of a bonus because of the other parts of his game. After playing a large role on the gold medal champion Canadian World Junior team, he should be ready to take the next step over the second half.
Turner Elson B- 36 6 10 16 20 6 56
A feisty forward with some touch around the net, One of Elson’s biggest accomplishments over the first half was beating the injury bug and staying relatively healthy. While his offense has not been quite as prolific as last season (he is not alone), his defensive game has been firing on all cylinders, and he sees a lot of ice in critical situations. Tremendously versatile, he can play any forward position, and sees minutes on the penalty kill and power play. Turner is scrappy and can be difficult to play against, though he has toned that down a bit this season. As the lineup returns to normal, expect Elson’s scoring to pick up during the second half.
Michael Rasmussen C+ 10 2 7 9 4 -12 6
The first half was a lost season for Rasmussen who spent most of it on the injured list. After playing in Detroit last season, he was expected to be a big contributor to the Griffins and take the next step in his development. A return to health in the second half should do a lot to boost the team’s fortunes and determine where he slots in next season.
Matt Ford C+ 32 6 11 17 18 -10 70
The Captain looks like he is feeling better than last season, as appears to be getting up and down the ice easier. While his goal scoring has fallen off a bit, he has been very effective in a more supporting role and his assist total has almost equaled his full season total from last year. Ford’s value is measured more in other areas than just scoring, his faceoff prowess, his veteran savvy and his leadership being key among them.
Dominik Shine C+ 33 2 6 8 34 -5 61
Shine is a kamikaze on the ice, skating at full speed up and down the ice and banging in to opposing players. He steals pucks and is an effective forechecker with the speed and hands to create scoring chances from nothing. What he lacks is finish, as so many of those incredible chances just fall short as he hits the netminder or misses the net. He fills his roll well as he grinds it out every shift giving 110% effort and won’t back down from anyone despite his smaller stature.
Tyler Spezia C+ 10 3 14 14 -3 9
Spezia impressed in a short audition last season, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that he has fit in so well at the AHL level. The speedy forward has a nose for the net, scoring 3 goals in his first 10 games, but is responsible enough defensively to play a regular shift. He is likely headed back to Toledo in the second half but has made himself an easy choice for recall if needed.
Jarid Lukosevicius C+ 19 4 1 5 7 -2 25
A surprising addition to the Griffins roster, Lukosevicius turned a solid grinding game into a near regular spot in the lineup. The rookie forward has shown off a nice blend of sandpaper and skill, even managing a few goals from the fourth line. He has pretty good size, is solid enough to take and make hits, and is a pretty good skater, allowing to play a number of roles in the lineup. Lukosevicius was one of the poster children from what was missing in the Griffins lineup in the early going as the team lacked the muckers and grinders to win battles.
Chase Pearson C 34 4 5 9 4 -14 49
A hard-worker, Pearson is always hustling on the ice, playing a solid physical game as a defensive center. He has shown glimpses of an offensive touch, but so far that has eluded him consistently. He shown good skill with the puck and the ability to work the cycle and keep the opposition hemmed into their own zone.
Kyle Wood C 12 0 2 2 2 -3 14
Acquired from Carolina for Kaski, Wood is a towering defenseman with a reputation of being a good puck mover. In a small sample size, he has been pretty good in his own end, and does make a good first pass. The frustration is that he does not use his size very effectively, and thus far has not been very engaged offensively, a skill he has shown in the AHL previously. If he could add that element back to his game, it would be a big boost to the Griffins offensively challenged rearguards.
Gregor MacLeod C 22 3 3 6 2 -3 26
A speedy center with grit, MacLeod took advantage of a preseason injury to Chase Pearson to make the opening day roster and has been hard to remove from the lineup the first half. MacLeod really stepped up his game and has shown off more skill than was originally expected. He is dogged and determined with the puck, working at his best on the forecheck and in the corners. He has played well on a variety of lines but has made the most impact on a checking line with Lukosevicius and Shine. His next challenge will be the return of Rasmussen, but this team needs some sandpaper and MacLeod is happy to supply it.
Ryan Kuffner C- 25 6 2 8 2 -2 40
A pure scorer with a quick release, Kuffner got off to a good start showing off his goal-scoring prowess and quick hands. Injuries and inconsistency have caused him drop through the lineup to now being a rotating scratch. He needs to ramp up his intensity and work on making an impact in other areas of his game to move back to being a regular. He can be a threat on the powerplay with his ability to find openings and his accurate shot.
Evgeny Svechnikov C- 29 5 8 13 39 -10 62
After missing all of last season with a serious knee injury, Svechnikov was expected to get off to a slow start. He earned a couple of recalls to the NHL early, but has battled inconsistency as he tries to rediscover his pro game. His physical game is coming along very nicely as he uses his size and strength to create room and separate the puck carrier form the puck through the neutral zone. His offense has been spotty, and it is safe to say that his game at the next level will be in the middle six, not as a sniper like his brother. He still has time to round into form, and his work ethic and enthusiasm are apparent if not contagious.
Dennis Cholowski D 12 0 3 3 2 -8 19
The mobile rearguard is back in the AHL after spending the beginning of the season in Detroit for the second straight year. You can see that the tools are there, starting with his smooth skating and ability to thread passes through defenders and up ice. The problem is his confidence is shot, and he has regressed considerably from the last time he was in the AHL. His poor decision making, and defensive miscues are glaring and costly, and you can watch him overthinking plays which slows down his game. The organization is reaching a crossroad with Cholowski and may be best served by bring in a former NHL defender (Chelios, Kronwall, or Rafalski?) to work with him for the rest of the year in the hopes of getting him on track again.
Filip Larsson F 7 0 0 0 0 0 0
The organization’s goaltender of the future left school early to turn pro and quickly found himself in over his head. A self-taught netminder, he is working with a dedicated coaching program for the first time and will need a lot of playing time in the ECHL to refine his game and make the changes natural. Comparing his first pro season to former Griffin Jared Coreau’s first would be an apt comparison, and perhaps a projection of how much room he has to turn things around.
Blake Hillman Inc. 5 0 1 1 4 1 3
Hillman has been an admirable fill in with the Griffins shorthanded on the backend. He has displayed defensive prowess and a nice first pass, not looking out of place in his short stint in the AHL. It remains to be seen how much opportunity he will have down the stretch, but he has certainly played well enough to be in the conversation.
Kevin Poulin Inc. 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Making his first start in a couple seasons due to injury, Poulin battled hard but the Griffins lack of offense hurt him. If he can regain his form, he could play a large role between the pipes in the second half.